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Regenerative Agriculture

Agriculture is an essential part of Kenya’s economy. It directly contributes to 25% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), 27% indirectly through linkages to other sectors and it accounts for 65% of Kenya’s export earnings (Government of Kenya, 2017).

Embu County in the highlands of Kenya, one of the country’s leading food baskets, heavily relies on the agricultural sector both as the principal source of food and nutrition and as the backbone of the economy. The majority of the population (70%) derives their livelihood from crop production and livestock keeping including maize, dairy cattle, bananas and beans.

Meanwhile, Tharaka-Nithi is a semi-arid county where over 40% of the county’s population lives below the poverty line (less than one dollar a day).

The problem

A growing population and climate-related shocks threaten both counties’ agricultural productivity, due to ongoing land subdivisions and soil degradation as a result of overgrazing, over-cropping, erosion and poor farming methods, thus endangering food security.

Government agricultural extension services are limited due to insufficient funds, ageing staff and poor links to research institutions. The ratio of government extension workers to farmers is just 1:1,200 against the expected 1:400*. 

What have we achieved?

The first phase of the regenerative agriculture project ran from July 2020 to October 2021 in Embu County. Through training 50 farmer groups, each with 200 members, the project increased production and incomes, and boosted the resilience of 10,000 farmers in Embu through regenerative agricultural practices that improved soil health and food security in the face of climate change.

Strengthening private sector-led extension services 

The training course was delivered to 100 private village-based advisors (VBAs) and six ward agricultural officers, who in turn trained the 10,000 farmers.

The VBAs also played a critical role in linking farmers to both input and output markets.

Increasing productivity 

Regenerative agriculture involves farming practices that rejuvenate soil health. The project encouraged cover cropping, mulching, minimum tillage, micro-dosing, use of bio-fertilizers and an inter-cropping system of maize and high-yielding, nitrogen-fixing climbing beans, alongside agroforestry crops to improve soil fertility and provide staking material for the climbing beans.

We worked with village-based advisors to establish 50 demonstration plots to spur faster uptake and transfer of skills to individual farms.

These practices were found to contribute to reduced moisture loss and improved soil fertility. Farmers reported a 20% increase in harvest, thus escaping total crop failure following reduced rainfall in 2021.

Improving collective marketing and aggregation 

Collective marketing and aggregation of climbing beans and maize was improved through the training of three aggregators in warehouse management, grain quality, seasonal marketing strategies and production plans.

A total of 20 satellite aggregation centres were established and the aggregators’ capital access widened through linkages to financial services providers.

Stories from the project are featured in a compendium on regenerative agriculture produced by AGRA.

What are we doing?

Between 2022 and 2025, the project is scaling up the uptake of regenerative agriculture in Embu as well as in Tharaka-Nithi. A total of 50,000 smallholder farmers will be trained in regenerative agricultural practices to boost their productivity, climate resilience, food security and incomes.

VBAs will continue to be a key feature of the project with Farm Africa training 250 VBAs across the counties. The training will cover post-harvest handling, storage, home garden establishment, VBA business models and agribusiness acumen. Through a kitchen garden initiative, Farm Africa will support farmers to grow more fruit and vegetables at home for their families to consume.

Access to finance will also be improved for VBAs, as well as for smallholders and agribusinesses that adopt regenerative agriculture techniques.

The project will also build the capacity of local and national governments in developing policies on the promotion of regenerative agriculture. We will influence research institutions to adopt regenerative agriculture best practices, as well as input distributors at a commercial level.

The project also features the Acorn initiative in collaboration with Rabobank, which stands for ‘Agroforestry CRUs for the Organic Restoration of Nature’. This initiative supports farmers to grow trees on their farms and monetize the carbon stored in these trees by trading Carbon Removal Units (CRUs). The Acorn initiative creates a transparent marketplace for carbon sequestration and gives farmers the chance to sustainably manage forest ecosystems and biodiversity, and improve soil health.

Project partners

The project is funded by the IKEA Foundation through AGRA.

AGRA logo

County Governments of Embu and Tharaka-Nithi.

Other collaborative institutions include KALRO, CROPNUT, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, tertiary institutions, aggregators, digital technology providers, financial services providers, seed companies and markets.

*Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MOALF).